How it works

The kidneys work to filter your blood. They take any waste and make urine. As urine is made, it flows down through the ureters—the tubes that connect the kidneys to the bladder. Then urine is stored in the bladder. When it's time to urinate, the bladder empties through the urethra.

Cancer in the urinary tract

Your doctor might say you have urinary tract cancer. Or they might call it urothelial carcinoma or urothelial cancer. The word urothelial (uro-THEE-lee-uhl) is used because these types of cancer happen in the tissue on the inside of the urinary tract. That tissue is called the urothelium (uro-THEE-lee-um).

The urothelium tissue lines the inside of all 4 major parts of the urinary tract. That means urinary tract cancer can happen in the lining inside any of those parts—the kidneys, ureters, bladder, or urethra.

Parts of the urinary tract

An illustrated and labeled diagram of the Urinary Tract
Illustrated diagram of the kidney for desktop screen sizes

The upper tract and UTUC

The kidneys and ureters make up the upper part of the urinary tract.

Cancer that happens in the lining of the kidneys or ureters is called upper tract urothelial cancer, or UTUC.

Your doctor might call this cancer something else, like

  • Renal pelvis cancer
  • Ureteral cancer
  • Cancer in the lining of the kidney

Did your doctor tell you that you have kidney cancer?

Be sure to ask whether it’s UTUC or another type of cancer that happens in the kidney, called renal cell cancer or renal cell carcinoma (RCC).

More information about RCC can be found on the National Cancer Institute website.

Did your doctor tell you that you have cancer in your upper urinary tract?

Find out what’s important to know about UTUC